Reviewed by Emma Crowley
'What I want to know', said Lorna, 'is what lies behind those ash trees at the back of the garden?
Lorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds
They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends.
But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.
So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.
But do they?
Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna's past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated...
I've loved Katie Fforde's books for as long as I can remember and also look forward to each new publication come springtime each year. Her books are always warm, nice, light reads ideal for curling up on the couch for a few hours lost in a good story. She has written so many books and the majority always focus on a woman who is of a particular profession. Last year's book A Summer at Sea focused on a woman who was a cook on a puffer boat in Scotland whereas in this new story A Secret Garden horticulture and gardens is the focus. Like all her other books it was a nice, gentle read and there was nothing wrong with the story itself but it just seemed to lack the sparkle of her previous books and I can't say it was my favourite read from this author. I really don't like saying that considering I have loved everything else she has written but this one was missing something and I still can't put my finger on what it was. I think if you are new to this author's writing A Secret Garden probably wouldn't be the book to start with. That said I won't stop reading anything this author writes, in particular I love her short story collections, and will just leave this one as a slight blip in the road well in my mind anyway.
A Secret Garden follows two women Philly and Lorna. At some points the way these characters were written I thought they were older than they were. Philly is 23 and Lorna much older but she read as if she was around Philly's age. It was only when a son of Lorna's is mentioned and then makes an appearance that I realised just how old she was. I know this shouldn't bother me too much but it's just when you have built up a picture and sense of a character in your head and you're beginning to become invested in their storyline and then things change it disrupted the flow of the story for me and the images I had created. Philly lives with her Grandfather Seamus, both having run away from their overbearing family in Ireland to seek some solitude. They bought an abandoned house with plenty of land and outbuildings where Seamus can bake to his hearts content and Philly can grow her plants and flowers to sell on her stall.
Philly also sells plants to Lorna who works at Burthern House recreating the gardens for her long-term friend Peter. Peter and Lorna grew up together and Lorna harbours these long term feelings for Peter which are clearly not reciprocated. Even when we discovered this and saw Peter had a new partner Karen, I just wished Lorna would forget all about him and move on in her life to someone else. There is no point procrastinating over someone you clearly can't have and never will have. So it was nice to see a new male character make an appearance in the form of sculptor Jack who wants to be part of the exhibit being held in the gardens. In some ways this 'friendship/tentative relationship' felt very rushed and had little development then in others there was very little happening and I thought the reader had to fill in the gaps. Truthfully I wasn't overly concerned what happened to either of them in the end.
Philly was a good character whom you could see wanted to break free from the unrealistic expectations of her parents and follow her dream of working with plants and flowers. She seemed willing to hep anybody that needed it whilst at the same time worrying about Seamus. It was clear money was an issue as she took on waitressing jobs to keep everything afloat and this is where she meets chef Lucien and a spark is ignited. Lucien in ways was similar to Philly in that he knew what he wanted in life but he just didn't have the means in which to achieve it given that like Philly in fact even more firmly his parents were against what he wanted to do. I suppose that was partly the connection that was drawing them towards each other but also they were at that point in their lives when they wanted to find that special someone. Of course things never run smoothly and there were a few obstacles thrown in their path but yet they failed to hook me. In my mind the best characters in this story were Seamus and Athena (Peter's mother). They were funny and sweet at the same time and brought some of the much missing sparkle to this book. Their scenes were a joy to read and in a way they were slightly mischievous.
I haven't mentioned anything relating to the secret garden as mentioned in the title and I suppose that was the most frustrating thing for me in this read. I kept waiting and waiting for this garden to materialise given that seemed to be the focus of the book when looking at both the title and blurb. Only at the 75% mark was there any mention of it and by then it was far too late and not utilised properly, it really should have been more of a focus. It could have brought the much needed sparkle to the book had it occurred far earlier in the story. It just fell rather flat for me when it did come to light.
I'm sorry to say and I say it with great reluctance but A Secret Garden isn't the best book Katie Fforde has written and I have read some other reviews where readers feel the same. I hate saying this but I was disappointed with it given how much I had looked forward to reading it. I rarely, if ever, use these words but it did become boring in places and although at the story was pleasant enough it just didn't capture my attention and keep me hooked until the end. I don't like having that feeling reading a book of, will this ever get going? Sadly that is what I had here. I don't think this is the most memorable of all the books the author has written given some of the wonderful stories I have read from her in the past but I will definitely read whatever she writes in the future.
Many thanks to Random House UK Cornerstone-for my copy of The Secret Garden to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.